These are the first of the Miami to Key Largo Race stories coming in. The race was held, Saturday, April 14. The race is put on by the Miami Yacht Club. It was a windy, wet, and wild day for the race with winds out of the east between 20 and 30 knots. There were lots of flips and some boat damage. If you were in the race I ask you to share your adventure, otherwise no one knows what your race was like. Thank you to those who have sent in their stories.

Skipper: Mauricio Mendez, crew: Brian Glassman
Boat: Nacra 5.8

After showing up at Hobie Beach dark and early, we calmly set up our old Nacra 5.8, and waited until 7:55 to launch. We noticed most boats were scrambling to get close to the eastern buoy, but we chose to go closer to the west buoy which also seemed to be further south. We happened to be behind Mike Phillips when he capsized off his yellow Marstrom 20, and about 10 minutes later a gust of wind did the same to us. The wind was pushing the boat lying on its side, and swimming around it was not easy, getting separated would have been. The boat flipped on us right away. After immediately righting the boat a second time, we continued with a torn jib. It looked like the weather was getting worse.
About a third of the way down the bay we noticed a nasty crack in our front cross-beam and had to turn around. Back on Hobie beach we found a second crack on the beam and were grateful that our very old but much loved '84 Nacra 5.8 didn't break in half. It got us home that day.
It was so exciting to see so many sailboats out on the water that very gray Saturday morning.
Dick and Linda Macdonald
West Palm Beach
Nacra 5.8

The forecast was consistent all week, except for which day it would go from windy, to really windy. So I figured either way it would be a rather sporty ride. We have raced in wind over 20 with gusts close to 30 before, so why not. All we can do is prepare to go and then decide on the beach, to sail or not to sail. We decided to sail, and sail we did. It was hard work, and it was fast, sometimes too fast. But we made it, had fun, got the t-shirt, and have the story.

Let me back up here a bit and define “we”. The “we” that decided to sail that is. It’s important, and those of you who sail with your spouse understand. My crew is my wife of 26 years, Linda, I mean “Saint Linda.” Any woman who sails with her husband on a beach cat has most definitely earned sainthood, mostly because they’re willing to do it again and again.

So there we were, standing next to our trusty steed, a 30 year old Nacra 5.8, on the beach at the Miami Yacht Club with hot coffee in hand, watching the sun come up, eating ham and cheese bagel sandwiches. Life is good. Looking back, we were strangely optimistic. Considering it rained on our tent all night. Our pillows and blankies were all wet, and it was already starting to blow like stink. All things considered, we feel good. Boat’s ready, let’s go to Key Largo.

The ride out to the start line was pleasant. The pressure died under the bridge, but that’s normal. The main sheet and traveler had to be played constantly as the gusts and shifts came through. As the sun rose higher we could see the rain showers to the east moving in fast. We found a quiet corner on the west side of the line and waited. At 8:00 am we sheeted in and off we went. Now this is fun stuff.

Well, we got about a ˝ mile and went over fast and hard. The wind caught the trampoline, and we sailed off on our side toward the western shoreline. I believe I sighted a nice concrete wall in the distance that we were about to leave some gelcoat on. With some patience, some experimenting, and some really good team work the boat was back on her feet, and we were back in the race. We were dead last and way out west in the bay. But we were sailing fast, really fast.

The sea state was not conducive to double trapping. If the helmsman gets washed off the boat it really slows things down. So I stayed on the deck with feet locked under the strap with Linda trapped out behind me using the foot strap aft of the beam. All is good, except, I can’t see. The spray off the windward hull catches me right in the face, and sunglasses just don’t cut it. Good time for goggles. Note to self… “Stop talking about it, and buy some goggles.”

“Hey crew, are we having fun?”
She gives a woohoo and asks, “Do you know where you’re going?”

I can see the west shore of the bay and the approaching rain shower to the east. I motion to the rain shower and yell, “That way.” The rain actually felt good on the eyes, and the wind settled a bit. The sea state came down considerably, and we made some progress to the east. One quarter mile visibility was the average, I guess. I could see no shore, no other boats, just lots of water.

As the rain departed, the wind returned. We used our angle to the wind and waves as our compass and made a sighting off the power station as we approached the pass into Card Sound. Oh yeah, we sailed right over the Featherbed Bank. “Whoa, boards up!” And we flipped twice more on our way down the bay.

The entire ride down the bay, we saw not a single sail. But my crew held tough, no complaints. Still says she’s having fun and has helped out sheeting the main. She even tried to tie a loose batten but had to remove it rather than lose it. That made sheeting the boomless main flat even more fun. We were a bit over powered and had to drive off in the puffs to control things. With both boards down only 12” we were actually skidding to leeward off the waves in the big gusts. But it was fast, really fast.

The wind was really blowing hard as we approached the channel into Card Sound. I had to keep driving off deeper to keep the hull down and the bows up and the rudders in the water. We didn’t actually reach the channel, but we were close. As we enter Card Sound another rain shower approached with a nice gust front. We are now going faster than I believe this boat was intended to go. Somewhere in the instructions, I’m sure it says to not do this. I now have the main sheeted out to the point where the top 1/3 of the sail is inverting and I’m driving off as deep as land permits. But hey, we’re outrunning the rain, and the bridge is coming up really fast.

The water is black from the shadow of the rain shower. The sea state is 3-5 feet with the tops blowing off, and we are plowing straight through waves just like an old Nacra should. Linda keeps sighting the bridge for me because I can’t see through the spray. Didn’t seem to take long and believe it or not, Linda says that was her favorite part. And she thinks that’s where we were most under control. Different perspective I guess.

As we approach the Card Sound Bridge things calm down, way down. I handed off the sheet and took a break. Coming out of the bridge we hardened up and enjoyed a double trapped reach across Barnes Sound.

Ok, without the lower batten, the sail would not flatten out. I had to sheet down really hard to go to weather, and my hand was really tired. I handed off the main to Linda, and she gave me the breaks I needed to finish the race. All was good. Except why couldn’t they set the finish marks so we could just sail straight through? That dude owes me a beer!

It always takes me awhile to come down off the adrenalin rush of sailing a beach cat fast. Then I need a nap! As our team work develops we’re not as tired, but the adrenalin is always there. One of the best parts of sailing cats is the great company of other cat sailors on the beach. One of the Hobie team’s “saints” actually brought a homemade rum cake, and we all had a piece while sitting on a trampoline. How cool is that? And yes, it was, the cold beer at Gilbert’s was really, really good. Thank god for sailboats, and god bless the women who sail with us.

Jared and Jay Sonnenklar
Inter 20, Royal Yellow.
By Jared Sonnenklar

Here is a link to some video of our race.

Miami Key Largo Story
I woke up early, eagerly anticipating my first major race in nearly two years. I wasn’t planning on racing, but when the call came from Dad asking me to fill in, I said yes immediately. I couldn’t let Pops miss his twentieth consecutive Miami-Key Largo.
I arrived at the Miami Yacht club anticipating a day full of sun and fun. But the minute I stepped out of my car; I sensed the tension in the air. This was not going to be a pleasure cruise. The sky was gray and even the wind whistled through the bare rigging of sail-less boats. They were not to tempt fate, as nature made it clear to sail would be to defy.
Resolute in our determination to finish we pushed on and pleasantly made our way to the starting area, commenting jovially that it wasn’t as windy as we thought. We chatted amicably, caught up in general, and plotted our course for the day.
No tacks through the bridges, and BAM we hit the bay like Ray J in that video. Suddenly it was exactly as windy as we thought. Nuclear! There was white foam covering a dark ominous ocean. I wasn’t so sure this was going to be fun.
We sailed around going through our usual pre-start chores, checking and talking strategy. Knowing communication would be tough we formed plans A and B and braced ourselves.
We crept slowly to the line, careful not to look back at the deep purple rolling squall fast approaching. The gun sounded, and we were off. It was everything we hoped for and so much we prayed against.
We double trapped, screaming reaching down the bay, attempting to climb to the outside so that we could theoretically use the spinnaker later to fall down to Card Sound Bridge. Like I said, theoretically.
We were sailing as fast as humanly possible, with light 2-3 foot chop sending spray over our heads, covering the bottom 1/3 of the mainsail. We cruised like this for all of 2 minutes before we heard the most dreaded sound in sailing, the rupturing of fiberglass. The jib track had split in half, leaving the jib fluttering in 30 mph of breeze. The noise was deafening. Retiring wasn’t an option. You don’t get to 20 consecutive races without a little chutzpah. Figuring that taking it down would be too tough in the chop and wind, we double trapped back out and pressed on, leaving the jib to its own devices, neither of us sure what would happen.
After another few miles, the noise was too much, and we decided to try and drop the flogging sail. Dad went forward, cutting the lines holding our useless front engine; we parked, stuffed the remnants into the tramp bag, and carried on. In maybe the most impressive (ok not most, Colin may be reading) feat of on board repair I have seen. Dad was unable to undo the shackle holding the sail, so he takes his knife and cuts the entire tack out of the jib. Hey, it worked, and he’s paying, thank god.
Damage avoided we proceeded single trapped broad reaching as fast as we could get the boat to go. Half the time, I sheeted out, traveled out, turned down, and prayed. The bows stuffed, the spray flew overhead, but we carried on. The spray was so intense I couldn’t see at all. My eyes swelling and bloodshot from the stinging salt pelting my face so often it felt as if there was no difference between one spray and the next, just a series of biting, stinging needles flung into our faces. Cruising at an average of 22 MPH will do that I guess.
It was as fast as we could go, or dared to push, hooting and hollering, riding the gusts down, surfing waves, sailing truly on the edge. Teetering between race speed and Princess Diana, we careened down the bay, having one hell of a ride.
We carried on this way for a while, started looking for the Featherbed Bank and our competition. By this point we’d settled down from our early catastrophe and the race was back on, until the rain came. It poured. It was not a shower, but an absolute deluge of water from the sky, combining with the ocean spray to create a white blanket in front of us.
Ok, no big deal, we don’t need to see to sail. Except oh, yeah... the Featherbeds! We emerged from the whiteout relieved only briefly before, “Shallow!” Scrambling we lifted the boards and tried to maintain course. The rudders kicked up, and somehow we maintained course and crossed safely.
Catastrophe number 2 averted, and the race was back on. We got in front of the squall lines, and the wind backed off slightly. We launched the spinnaker and made for Card Sound.
I know I said the original plan was to launch the spinnaker, but we weren’t following the original plan. We just got lost. Whoops!
We cruised along, happy to have the spinnaker up until, the next squall came. The wind shifted forward, increased in velocity. A freight train of invisible force smashed into our tiny vessel, and cart wheeled us in a way that would make Shawn Johnson proud. After the usual “are you okays,” we moved about righting the boat.
Catastrophe number 3 was avoided and we sped under the bridge, casually flying a hull for the media. There’s no point in doing it if it doesn’t look good in pictures. We crossed the finish line not long afterwards and hit the beach never feeling so tired from a two and a half hour race.
Damage: one jib track, one jib, one hiking line, multiple abrasions, and sore muscles.
Bonuses: Dad got his 20th consecutive complete race. I raced. Dad and I are still speaking, and we had a great time. It’s easy to forget why we do what we do. It’s because it’s fun. Despite all the bad weather, breakdowns, and wrong turns, I had a great time. There was nowhere I would have rather been that Saturday morning than tempting fate with my father.

Shout out to Dad and the reason I started sailing. He is a true badass and beast on the front of the boat. You don’t try those conditions with just anyone, and I couldn’t be happier to survive them with Dad.
Congrats on 20 straight Padre. May the next 20 be sunnier.


Here are a couple more MKL Race stories. If you would like to tell your race story, please get it in this week at the latest. I would like to thank those that sent in their stories. They are: Mauricio Mendez (Nacra 5.8), Chris Stater (F-16), Richard Macdonald (Nacra 5.8), Jared Sonnenklar (Inter 20), Mike Phillips (Marstrom 20), Robert Onsgard (Corsair, F-750 Sprint). Everyone who sailed the race had an amazing experience. These folks were kind enough to share their experience so everyone else could feel their adventure.

Looking at the results, it looks like it was good year to be on a Corsair trimaran or any bigger cat. They had much better completion rates than the beach cats.

Here are the next two stories.

Crew: Mike Phillips and Taylor Palmer
Boat: Marstrom 20
By Mike Phillips

I look forward to the Miami to Key Largo race every year. For all the Cat sailors out there, this race offers challenges for every boat; from the most exotic all carbon cats to the junkyard dogs. This year a Hobie 16 won overall on handicap. We are so spoiled to live here and have beautiful Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys in our back yard. The Miami Key Largo race is a must do race.

I was fortunate to have Taylor Palmer back to do all the hard work and go for a repeat win. We were feeling confident that the conditions were challenging but not impossible. As we prepared for the start we headed for the low end, giving us more room to feather up if we got slammed by big gusts.

We started south at the gun without any real urgency, just methodically climbing out on the trapeze and finding my foot strap, Taylor sliding back to lock in on the chicken line. With little to no thoughts of pushing the boat hard, we assessed our trim. But the reality is, as cool as we tried to be, we are reaching the M20 in 25 knots plus! The simple translation is we were freaking hauling butt! I said “OK, let's just settle in and find a rhythm and get comfortable.” I actually believed myself.

John Hannau was running the chase boat with Mike Hannau, camera in hand. Mike was looking to capture all the epic moments on SD card, instantly making the sailors famous for all the wrong reasons as a feature on the pages of Dr. Crash.

Well, the camera boat ran by us giving us an unexpected wake and Taylor lost his footing for a second as the bow dug into the wave. The M20 is a very responsive boat, and when balanced out and tuned, gives the skipper the feeling of total control. The boats attitude was just that, controlled with bows up, but after that little slip so early in the race I said, “We need to chill,” I repeated “let's CHILL!” Just then, the gust caught me heading down, the bow drove in and we pitch poled. Demonstrating our best Dr. Cash form, we flew through the air, slamming into the forestay. The crack the snap and the pop are the sounds of carbon mast outside the design tolerances. The rudders and the curved boards were now drying in the down position, we were turtled! I was dejected, and out of the race for the first time. Yes, that was my first thought as we sat on the boat.

The boat was recovered uneventfully and Mike maxed out his SD card. You can see our Crash sequence on the Miami Yacht Club Web site. I can't wait for next year's race.

Hope you enjoyed my crash story,

Mike Phillips

Boat: Corsair 750 Sprint
By Robert Onsgard

I was on Speedster, Corsair 750, with Phil Styne and Steve Marsh. The boat handled the big air really well. Full main (probably should have reefed), pulled the jib down twice for short spells, couple periods of total white out conditions, but no gear failures.



John McKnight
Commodore, Catamaran Association of Biscayne Bay (CABB)
(305) 251-7600
CABB on Facebook at
CABB Forum: